First Time Cruising Solo – What to Know Before You Go

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Norwegian Epic Studio Stateroom

There are a lot of articles written by people who have completed their first solo cruise.  While I enjoy their stories, one solo cruise does not an expert make.

Not to say that I’m an expert, but I’ve really been there, done that and have been buying the t-shirts since 1980, when I took my first solo cruise on a three-nighter to the Bahamas.  I was hooked.  Here are my secrets to get you on your way to cruising solo.

9 Top Tips for your first time cruising solo.

1.  Board the ship with a smile.

Celebrity-Millennium-welcome-champagne
Even if you’re not the most intrepid traveler and have a string of doubts about cruising solo, hold your head high and act like you belong there.  Why? Because you do! Traveling solo is not a dreaded condition nor should it be perceived that way. Smile to the welcome aboard staff, to fellow passengers in the elevator and even at muster drill. It’s a good way to get your solo cruise off to a great start.

2.  Make friends with the front desk staff.

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Except for after midnight, during dinner and show times, the front desk staff can be bombarded with guests, many of whom are there with unfounded complaints and unreasonable requests. Don’t be like the rest of the herd. A little kindness goes a long way.

If you should need special assistance with anything, the front desk staff is your first stop. So it makes sense to be pleasant and polite. Show your appreciation with a box of chocolates from the gift shop. Or stop at a bakery at your first port of call and bring back a sweet treat for the front desk people.  A little kindness goes a long way.

3.  Make friends with a bartender. Ladies, listen up.

Here’s a “trick” I figured out several years ago. After the muster drill or when the evening bartenders start their shift , I scout out a bar that looks comfortable, has wifi and where the bartender seems to love his/her job.  My goal is to find my own “Cheers” for the duration of the cruise.  Completing my bar-trials, I settle in on what I call my safety zone.

When the bartender serves my drink, I tip a $20 bill or the equivalent in Euros.  A conversation ensues.  I like to have a place to go for a drink without being bothered by random drunks or overly chatty bar-flies.  My new bartender-friend has my back.  I like to get out of my room and now I can sit at this bar, type, people-watch, sip and relax without interruption.

 4.  Take an onboard class.  

Hands-On cooking class at the Culinary Center aboard Holland America Maasdam.

Hands-On cooking class at the Culinary Center aboard Holland America Maasdam.

From Apple computer and dance lessons to culinary demonstrations and acting classes, there’s something for everyone. Holland America Line and Oceania have hands-on cooking classes. Wine, martini and/or whisky tastings are offered by almost every cruise line and are a sure way to meet your fellow passengers.

5.  Sign up for the ship’s shore excursions.

Hop on a bus or walk a short distance with other cruise passengers to the destination is an excellent way to get acquainted in a hurry.  Especially if you are headed for a afternoon party boat cruise!  There are excellent, independent shore excursion providers to use, too.

Uniworld shore tour on a Danube River cruise

Sometimes a long motorcoach ride yields all sorts of new friends.

One thing I will note, however, on a Caribbean cruise, you might find more solo people from your ship going with the cruise line’s excursions rather than a private tour operator. While I enjoy going with private tours (l love the smaller group size), a new solo cruiser might benefit from a ship’s tour as it may be the easiest and quickest way to meet your shipmates.

My experience, as a solo cruiser in an independent tour group, is that other ship’s passengers may be in your group.  But once you’ve tried the ship’s tours as a solo, you’re definitely ready to try one of the private tour companies.  This is only an observation…not a claim.

6.  Participate.

Test your wits at trivia, sing your lungs out at karaoke, or take part in silly pool deck competitions. Chances are you’ll never see any of these people again, so have a go at something you’d never try at home.

7.  Best Cruise Lines/Ships for cruising solo.

This is an article unto itself.  LINK TO NEW ARTICLE But here’s the Cliff Notes version.

Holland America has their solo traveler program including a shared-stateroom match-up, onboard activities just for solo travelers and even dance hosts for the ladies, on a handful of longer voyages.

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Also in the “Premium class” with Holland America are Princess and Celebrity Cruises.  Princess Cruises offers elegant decor, especially on its newest ships and might be a little more couples-oriented.  Just slightly more sedate than Celebrity, with the latter attracting 40+ yr. olds, current and retired professionals in search of a very contemporary and sleek ambiance aboard ship.

Luxury to ultra-luxury cruise lines also cater to solo passengers. Cunard is adding 15 solo staterooms to the Queen Mary 2 during its refit in 2016.  Cunard, Crystal, Seabourn and Silversea have Gentlemen Dance Hosts. It’s the hosts’ job to ensure that every solo woman who wants to dance can have a whirl around the floor.

Mega-ships from Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian have solo get-togethers at the beginning of the cruise, then usually every night at cocktail time or after dinner.  Check the daily planner for solo and singles’ events.  Less expensive than the aforementioned premium or luxury cruise lines, there’s a good chance to snag a sale with a reduced or zero single supplement (keep reading for more on that subject.)

Guests who book one of the 128 studio staterooms on the Norwegian Epic have access to an exclusive Studio Lounge. There’s continental breakfast, a full bar, televisions and a list of the day’s solo guests’ onboard activities.

8.  How to cut costs as a solo cruiser

Traveling as a solo doesn’t have to be expensive. But the cost can double due to the dreaded single supplement that cruise lines charge a solo person in a double-occupancy stateroom.

If your vacation days and itinerary are flexible, look around and find cruise line with the lowest single supplement promotion. Depending on the time of year and if the ship is not filling up, cruise lines may slash or even waive the usual 200% single supplement.

As an alternative, some cruise lines now offer solo accommodations, a good indicator that there is enough demand to warrant these specialized staterooms.

Norwegian Cruise Line was a pioneer in offering Studio staterooms for solo passengers aboard the Norwegian Epic. Albeit a petite room at 100 sq. ft., it’s a great alternative to paying double for the single supplement. Two others ships, the Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway also offer 59 Studio staterooms.

The new Norwegian Escape that debuted in October 2015, features 82 studio staterooms.  Clearly, Norwegian is the leader and innovator in solo accommodations.

Norwegian Escape Studio Lounge.

Norwegian Escape Studio Lounge. Photo: NCL.

Royal Caribbean has added a few single passenger staterooms to the Quantum of the Seas as well as the Harmony, Anthem and Ovation of the Seas. These new solo staterooms (with no single supplement) are also small, at 119 sq. ft but the addition of a balcony, would offset the itsy-bitsy size of the stateroom.

Also on these new ships are inside single passenger staterooms but offer a unique virtual balcony in the form of a floor to ceiling live screening of exactly what’s taking place outside.

Anthem of the Seas Inside virtual balcony. Photo: Royal Caribbean

Anthem of the Seas Inside virtual balcony at approx. 101 sq. ft. . Photo: Royal Caribbean

Royal Caribbean’s two older ships, Radiance, Brilliance and Serenade of the Seas each have three inside solo staterooms.

Carnival doesn’t have designated single passenger staterooms. But throughout the year, Carnival offers greatly discounted single supplements or even waives the supplement.

American Cruise Lines and Un-Cruise Adventures, with their small ships sailing American waterways, offer a handful of single occupancy cabins and on many sailing offer reduced single supplements.

Luxury cruise lines, like Silversea and Seabourn offer greatly reduced or may even waive the single supplement on certain cruises. Star Clippers upscale masted sailing ships also have a few single occupancy staterooms and from time to time, waive a single supplement.

9.  Stay Safe

It’s true that as a solo traveler, especially a female solo traveler, there is safety in numbers. The largest ships in the world are like mini floating cities. While you don’t have to worry about pickpockets onboard, once you step ashore you need to be aware of your surroundings.  Not everyone you meet onboard may be playing with a full deck.  Be careful giving out personal information like your stateroom number and home details.

If your ship is docked late in a port and you plan to spend an evening at a popular bar, maybe a Carlos and Charlie’s or Señor Frog, think of a plan as to how you’ll return to the ship late at night.  Watch for a group of people that are walking back to their ship and tag along.

In many ports, where English is not the primary language, a taxi ride especially at night can be a challenge. If you plan to take a taxi back to the ship, have the port address and ship name clearly written to show to the driver, in the local language.  You could even draw a picture of the ship.

Once in Lisbon after a night of Fado and dinner, I and two shipmates stepped into a taxi only to learn that the driver didn’t speak English.  When communications broke down and as we hadn’t closed the taxi door, we jumped away from the cab.  Suddenly, the driver gets out and starts screaming at us to pay him.  We hadn’t gone anywhere!

When two of his burly buddies approached out of nowhere, my friends and I literally ran into a nearby restaurant to wait until they were gone.  A word to the wise:  be careful with late night taxis in foreign countries.  Can you imagine this same scenario if you were a solo female traveler?

Once you go, you know.

Solo cruising can become addictive. Do what you want when you want, dine anywhere at any time and use up all the closet space for yourself. Explore places you might never have seen if you hadn’t taken a solo cruise.  You’re empowered.

Happy travels!

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9 Comments

  1. October 14, 2016 / 11:23 am

    Taking an on-board class would be such a fun activity! It would help to not only get you involved, but it would also help you to meet new people! That way you can try and make some friends while on the cruise, and it will make your time more enjoyable there!

  2. Sherry Kennedy
    Author
    October 14, 2016 / 11:40 am

    Thanks, Rosie.

  3. Clincy
    February 8, 2017 / 4:35 pm

    This article was alot of help. I am going on my first solo in April for 13 days. You help me to understand that I can do this. I listen to you on Cruise Radio. Thanx

  4. Sherry Kennedy
    Author
    February 9, 2017 / 5:36 pm

    Thank you for your kind comment. Have a wonderful time and enjoy the solo cruise experience! And thanks for listening, too. Bon Voyage! Sherry

  5. Kathy
    August 1, 2017 / 9:24 pm

    Hi Sherry…I have actually traveled quite a bit but just started traveling solo this year. I love cruising and will take your advise about smiling (such a simple thing that makes so much difference). I like the bar idea and will definitely try it. That $20 is just the first time right ?

  6. Sherry Kennedy
    Author
    August 1, 2017 / 10:23 pm

    Hi Kathy,
    Congratulations on cruising solo! Yes, I would just plan on giving the upfront $20 the first time only. Before you settle on a particular bar, please do a good walk-around until you feel like you’ve found your “Cheers”. If you find that you’re getting generous pours and excellent service, at the end of the cruise you can always give a few dollars extra. Not necessary at all, though. Have a wonderful next solo cruise! Thank you for reading and sending your question.
    Sherry

  7. August 24, 2017 / 1:57 pm

    Sherry,
    I admire you so much… I tell the world about you… I am getting ready to do an 25 day Antarctica cruise & tour in S. America in November..I am really glad that no one wanted to go with me…and really looking forward to it. I do travel solo but have not done such an extensive trip solo…I love keeping up with you, and hope that our paths cross again one day soon..

  8. Sherry Kennedy
    Author
    August 25, 2017 / 10:19 am

    Hi Lucille,
    Thank you so much for your wonderful note. It’s been ages since we’ve met up on a cruise…I think it was Norwegian Sky? Your upcoming adventure sounds fantastic and a solo opportunity that you’ll always remember! I appreciate your subscribing to my newsletter, too. Have a wonderful trip! Please email me when you return…I’d love to get your cruise report to publish here, if you wanted to do it.
    Best,
    Sherry

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